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Classic FA Cup Finals: Liverpool's Welsh heroics remembered

2024 marks 101 years since the first FA Cup final was held at Wembley, and there have been some absolute classics in the century since Bolton beat West Ham in that first clash.

As the third round kicks in and clubs all across the country dream of making it to Wembley, we have picked out five of the greatest ever FA Cup finals.

1953 - Blackpool 4 Bolton 3

It seems harsh that Blackpool striker Stan Mortensen became the only player post-1900 to score a hat-trick in an FA Cup final, yet the match in which he achieved the feat has become known as the Matthews final.

Stanley Matthews was one of the first superstars of English football and would become the first winner of the Ballon d’Or three years later, and after two failed attempts to win the cup, it seemed he would be destined for another runners-up medal after Bolton took a 3-1 lead.

Blackpool were still 3-2 down with just two minutes to go before winger Matthews squared the ball for Mortensen to fire home an equaliser, but there was still time for England’s most famous player to jink his way down the right and square the ball for Bill Perry to smash home from close range and win a seven-goal thriller.

1981 (replay) - Tottenham 3 Manchester City 2

Manchester City and Tottenham had already been involved in an eventful first match when City midfielder Tommy Hutchison netted at both ends, but the replay four days later, the first to take place at Wembley, was truly an epic.

Tottenham’s Ricky Villa, who had been substituted in the first game, was a changed man and put Spurs into an early lead, only for Steve MacKenzie to draw City level with an unstoppable volley.

Kevin Reeves put John Bond’s team ahead with a penalty but Tottenham equalised through Garth Crooks, before Villa danced through the City defence with 14 minutes remaining to score one of the most famous FA Cup final goals ever.

1987 - Coventry 3 Tottenham 2

Spurs were back six years later looking to maintain their record of never having lost an FA Cup final, but their dreams were crushed by Coventry City.

Clive Allen, who scored his 49th goal of the season that day, gave Spurs a dream start with a second-minute goal, but the Sky Blues were soon level through Dave Bennett.

Gary Mabbutt reinstated Spurs’ lead four minutes before the interval but it was not to be the club stalwart’s most notable contribution of the afternoon, as the tide started to turn against the north London side.

City were back on terms with a diving header from Keith Houchen, still celebrated in parts of the West Midlands and, six minutes into extra-time, Lloyd McGarth burst down the Coventry right, crossed into the box where the ball clipped Mabbutt’s knee and looped over Ray Clemence and into the Tottenham net, giving Coventry the most famous day in their history.

1990 - Crystal Palace 3 Manchester United 3

Both Palace and United had already been involved in thrilling semi-finals with the Eagles beating Liverpool 4-3 and the Red Devils seeing off Oldham in a replay after a 3-3 draw at Maine Road, and there was no slowing down for the meeting at Wembley the following month.

Gary O’Reilly put Steve Coppell’s underdogs ahead before England captain Bryan Robson drew United level before the break.

Mark Hughes put United ahead but Ian Wright’s introduction as a substitute proved inspired as he scored an equaliser just three minutes after entering the fray.

Wright then put Palace in dreamland by scoring in extra-time before a Hughes leveller was enough to take the game to a replay, a much calmer affair which United won with a goal from full-back Lee Martin.

2006 - Liverpool 3 West Ham 3 (Liverpool won 3-1 on penalties)

With Wembley still undergoing a rebuild, the last FA Cup final to be played at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium was a six-goal thriller.

Reigning European champions Liverpool were expected to see off West Ham comfortably, but things did not go according to plan as a Jamie Carragher own goal and a Dean Ashton effort gave the Hammers a two-goal lead.

Djibril Cisse soon pulled one back for Rafael Benitez’s side and it seemed order had been restored when Steven Gerrard fired the Reds level from the edge of the box.

However, Paul Konchesky re-established West Ham’s lead and it seemed they were destined to win the cup for the first time since 1980, only for Gerrard to fire home from 30 yards in injury-time.

Cup finals were settled on penalties by now and, spurred on by their late stay of execution, Liverpool triumphed, as Bobby Zamora, Konchesky and Anton Ferdinand all missed for the Hammers.

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